Public warning posters 1918 (left), 1939 (centre) and 1941 (right). Photos: Wikimedia Commons

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By MICHAEL HITCH

NSW health officials are urging the public to get influenza vaccinations for the 2019 national ‘horror flu season’ as the national death toll nears 300, following the death of a 13-year-old girl from Melbourne last week.

Crystal-Lee Wightley had been experiencing flu-like symptoms for three days before she slipped into unconsciousness and later died. Her death comes after 43-year-old Victorian father, James Day, who succumbed to the virus late in June despite being vaccinated.

South Australia’s death toll has also risen to 82 and the total number of reported cases is now set to hit 20,000, while more than 27,000 cases have been reported in NSW since January.

A spokesperson from NSW Health has said that despite the 50-70 per cent effectiveness of the flu vaccine, the best protection for the public is the flu jab.

“The flu vaccine is still the best protection and will reduce your risk of catching the potentially lethal virus by half,” said the spokesperson. “It is never too late to get vaccinated.”

Vaccine still the best protection

The spokesperson also commented on the NSW Government’s plans for tackling this year’s flu season, which includes heavy emphasis on immunisation assistance and awareness campaigns.

“The NSW Government is spending a record $22.75 million on state-wide immunisation programs which will assist with flu prevention this season,” they said. “This includes $2.6 million for free flu shots to children up to five years of age and a $1.5 million immunisation and influenza awareness campaign.

“Flu shots are free under the National Immunisation Program for pregnant women, people over 65 years of age, Aboriginal people and those with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart problems.”

So far this year there have been 131,000 flu cases across Australia, with 42,000 cases diagnosed in June alone.

The death toll from the flu has also risen to 287 nationally according to the federal health department. However, NSW Health has said that lab testing indicates that the circulating viral strains remain similar to the strains in the vaccine.

2.4 million government-funded influenza vaccines have been distributed to providers across NSW and the NSW Government has invested approximately $130 million in the 2018-19 Immunisation Program budget, including Commonwealth and state vaccines.

Founder of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network, Meryl Dorey disagrees with NSW Health’s efforts and believes that flu vaccinations are both ineffective and “reactive”. Ms Dorey referenced the 2009 case of Saba Button, a Western Australian child who successfully sued the state government after becoming severely disabled from receiving a flu jab.

“The flu vaccine has been used since the late 1970’s and since that time it has been shown to not only be incredibly ineffective but also incredibly reactive,” she said. “In 2009 an experimental flu vaccine was pushed by the government in Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria in the lead-up to the so-called swine flu epidemic, which never occurred. One child sued the government successfully because she is now permanently disabled as a result of the flu vaccine.

“When people vaccinate, they do so because they think that the vaccine is going to prevent a disease and keep them healthy. The flu vaccine has shown that it does not prevent flu, in fact flu like symptoms are one of the most common side-effects reported after the vaccine and it doesn’t keep you healthy because it can cause life-long disability and even death.”

Vaccine forces body to produce antibodies

This season’s flu vaccine effectively protects against four different strains by specifically targeting the H and N proteins found on the surface of the virus.

The vaccine forces the body to produce antibodies which develop roughly two weeks after initial vaccination. These antibodies protect against the weakened viruses found within the vaccine, limiting the risk of catching the flu and reducing the severity of flu symptoms.

However, immunity from flu vaccination decreases over time and the influenza virus is constantly mutating, and this season’s not different. A mutated H3N2 strain of the flu has been recently discovered – making the current vaccine potentially less effective.

Lauren Towler, a full-time student at the University of Sydney is still recovering from a week-long case of the flu, despite receiving a flu vaccination.

“Some people don’t want to get the jab because they think it’s dangerous or they can’t be stuffed, but trust me, you don’t want to risk it with this one,” she said.

“I’ve had the flu before, but this hit me like a train. One moment my throat is a little scratchy and the next minute, I feel like I’m going to die. No in-between!

“I’m still a sick bitch and it’s been nearly two weeks. I’d rather try to protect myself with a vaccination then leaving myself out in the open. If you can’t afford to drop your entire life for a whole week, get a jab. It’s common-sense.”